A NYC'er Opinion on Pittsburgh Eats (LONG)
I had posted a couple of weeks ago looking for restaurants to check out during a quick trip to Pittsburgh. I'd set the parameters for places within walking distance of my downtown hotel, and where I could get in and out for $30 to 40 bucks. I am happy to say that I was able to check out a few of the recommendations, and must say that I was pretty impressed with what I found. Here's a recap:
After getting to the hotel rather late in the evening I opted out of downtown exploration and ventured all of 20 feet to the pubbish Tap Room within the hotel. I considered breifly the fish and chips, but after the waitress recommended the burger I had to go with that. It was excellent and the fries were even better. It definitely rivaled some of the best burgers I've had here in New York. Also got a chance to try out the Iron City Beer and the Penn Marzen, both good with the burger. Price was on point at $20 a person with food drinks, tax and tip.
Having a conference to attend I went for the quick breakfast buffet at the Terrace Room. Good as far as buffets go. Excellent made to ordre omelet and even better banana nut bread. Definitely on the expensive end at $17 plus tax and tip.
Next was lunch, where I walked by Lemongrass -which had been a recommendation for a chowhounder. I was impressed by the cambodian food. I had a noodle dish with brocolli, egg and beef, while my more mainstream companion had shrimp fried rice. Although the noodle dish (very similar to Thai Pad See Iew) wasn't marked as spicy I asked the server if they could make it spicy and they complied. It was the perfect amount of flavor. Lunch for two was $20, with a couple fo cokes. The lunch items also came with soup and a spring roll.
We ventured a little further for dinner - to the South Side - which was a 5 dollar cab ride away - to visit a little place called Cafe du Jour on the recommendation of a hotel staff member. It was the perfect littel neighborhood spot and to make things even better it was a BYOB. Rarily do you find a BYOB of such high quality in NYC - other than perhaps Tartine. Everything we had was outstanding. We started with the spinach and asiago dip, which came with warmed french bread. Just as we were about to run out of bread with half the dip still left the server brought us another loaf without being asked. A sign of great service. I also had a salad with apples, gorgonzola and arugula. it was great, and the dressing was complimentary to the ingredients, rather than overpowering. Main courses were seared scallops with cous cous and porcini-crusted steak with mashed potatoes. The scallops were perfectly cooked, very tender and tasty, and the steak was also tasty. Mashed potatoes were excellent. All in all, this is one of the better meals I've had in a while and the price being just over $60 when all was said and done can't be outdone.
Having heard good things about Lidia's we enjoyed a nice walk through the stip district (I wanted to go in to each of those specialty shops and pick something good to eat) first adn then settled in for lunch. We shared the frito misto - a mix of calamari, shrimp adn zucchini fried in a light batter and served with some marinara sauce. Pretty good. The asparagus-split pea soup that came with my entree was uneventful, but the ceasar slad that came with my companion's was great. He felt it was too strong with parmesan, but I loved it. His entree was a steak panini that used real hunks of meat rather than flat sandwich steak. He said it was the best thing he's eaten so far. I had the pasta tasting trio, which included a fettucine with venison ragu (very goo, but very rich), bow ties with peas and shrimp (less interesting, but still good), and cheese filled ravioli in a light cream sauce and cognac soaked raisins (this was the best one, with a sweetness I didn't quite expect). I coudl have eaten a whole other plateful of the ravioli if I wasn't stuffed by this point. The price was a steel at 50 bucks with a couple of beers, tax and a good tip.
Our last meal in Pittsburg was lunch the next day as we were at the ballpark stuffing our faces with hotdogs and nachos. I was tempted to try out the "Bucco Taco", but alas couldn't fathom all those ingredients together. We walked over to Station Square and went for Grand Concourse. I beautiful space to be sure. We started with some buffalo shrimp - just like wings but with shrimp instead. Actually quite good. I wish I could find a place out here with those on the menu as I am not fan of wings. I had a steak sandwich on foccaccia topped with mozzarrella and portobello mushroom. Nothing to write home about, but it was good. My companion had a turkey burger, which he said was good. The cole slaw was great - it had jalapeno's which added a nice kick. Price for the meal, wasn't bad at abotu $35 for the both of us.
I was impressed with most of my meals in Pittsburg. I would love to get back there someday and explore a little more, especially Carson Street and the Strip District, where it looks like there are a lot of options for some great food.
Thanks to those who helped guide me.
Glad you had a good experience here in Pittsburgh. It's not the wasteland that some people make it out to be. With a little guidance there are certainly some great chowish places and as you've seen the prices are usually a bargain compared to other cities.
Next time you come back try to to put aside a few hours in the morning on a weekday if possible. It's way less crowded during the week but still managable on a Saturday (Sunday many things are closed). They sit it on the counter, just pick your piece and leave a buck. I like to start out at Enrico Biscotti and buy whatever looks good because it will be. Then go around the corner to La Prima Espresso for coffee or cappucino and stop in to the attached bakery for a $1 slice of pizza. After this it'd be a good time to explore the stores, make sure you hit Pennsylvania Macaroni. If you can manage lunch stop at Cafe Richard (closed Mon.) which is located about a block from Enrico Biscotti. They have amazing sandwiches and all of their baked good are superb. If you're not hungy at least buy something to go for dessert and/or a sandwich for later. I'd recommend you skip the two Asian sidewalk stalls as they are just average, same goes for the any sushi in the strip.
If you want a funky place to grab a coffee and use the free wi-fi, check out Leaf & Bean, a coffee store/cigar shop that's locate a block from Cafe Richard.
If you don't have much time or want a sit down breakfast, try Pamela's for their pancakes. Most people love these thin crisp crepe like pancake but some out of towner just don't get it so judge for yourself, but my family loves them!
As a native Pittsburgher, we were there last week for baseball and to see family....it was wonderful. The cuppucino at La Prima is one of the best I have ever had...for 2 dollars. Larry Laggatutta at Enrico is a former banker who started the place 10-12 years ago with his grandmothers recipe for biscotti....it is great. As is his macaroons(chocolate dipped if you ask). Both the Strip and South Side are such comfortable places(especially for this L.A. boy....yucccchhhh) and you gotta love the Pittsburgh people with out the pretensions of other big-city folk. Thanks for the nice words, TEG
Matt - the red haired barista and bar manager, combined with new roaster Phil - have put LaPrima in a space where they are definitely maximizing the coffees they get to work with. Still, I wouldn't send a serious coffee aficiando to Leaf & Bean. I'd send them to Caffe Intermezzo on Smallman and 21st. As for Enrico, nothing against Larry, but what he's really done is master the ability to market by smell. There are better biscotti to be had around town, if anyone really cares to seek them out (try Elizabeth's at Uptown Coffee in Mt. Lebo, for example - she sells to a number of good restaurants). Ask most any old Italian and they'll tell you , "I don't get it, it's just a dry cookie." But still, Enrico's is a Pittsburgh institution, much like Primantis, and on that regard, deserves a visit.
The cheese counter at PennMac is the best we have in town. No Murray's, but it's pretty good (and did get a mention in the Cheese Primer acknowledgements). But for Midnight Moon, you'd have to go to Cafe Richard.